Ahmadinejad and O’Reilly, Holding Hands


Dozens of literary masterpieces and international bestsellers have been banned in Iran in a dramatic rise in censorship that has plunged the country’s publishing industry into crisis.

Companies that once specialised in popular fiction and other money-spinners are being restricted to academic texts under a cultural freeze instigated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Several thousand new and previously published works have been blacklisted by Iran’s culture and Islamic guidance ministry, which vets all books.

The ban includes current and recent American best sellers, as well as classics, plus current international novels by Iranian expats and pre-revolutionary authors.

However, publishers say many books are being banned arbitrarily. “We had adapted to the previous policy but now that is annulled and they are imposing their own personal taste,” said Mohammed Ali Jafarieh, head of the Sales publishing house. “Publishers are being hurt. We rely on multiple print runs to make a profit but if these are being denied we cannot make any money.”

The rise in book censorship mirrors repression in other spheres. In September the reformist newspaper Shargh was closed after publishing a cartoon depicting President George Bush, disguised as a horse, debating with a donkey under a halo, widely seen as representing Mr Ahmadinejad. The publishers launched a replacement newspaper, Rouzegar, but it was ordered to close after five days.

This isn’t just a case of a hardline fundamentalist aligned government cracking down on some literature that isn’t sufficiently deferential to it’s particular brand of fairy tale. It’s a political statement. This is the Iranian government saying a big fat fuck you to the West, which of course is only going to bulster the case for the Right in claiming this as a Monumental Clash of Cultures. Or it would, if the idiots on the right promoting this Culture War (or a War on Culture) weren’t trying to ban some of the same books. But I’m sure that continuing to refer to them as the Axis of Evil doesn’t help matters any.

I would think that by the 21st century, we wouldn’t have to keep arguing for  the bennifts of an open society versus a closed one but sometimes, the same old song still has a beat you can dance to.